It turns out it doesn’t matter if your college-bound kids moves away to a school the distance it would take to toast a pop tart or to a university half way around the world- the growing pains of leaving home remain the same.
My daughter, who will be an assuring 45 minutes away and already “left” for summer term, is back after a brief one-week break and preparing now to head back for the fall.
The days are quite consistent: an odd mix of excitement and nerves, anxiety and empowerment, denial and overthinking about what the whole thing entails. And that’s from the two of us.
She may wake up wanting mommy to fix her a full-blown sunshine breakfast, the kind I used to make when she was seven. I’d quickly fry up an egg and slice pieces of buttered toast into rectangles that I’d then place around it, creating my overeasy masterpiece. If I were truly crafty, I would have, should have, cut out the whites, leaving the yolk as the sun’s core, then floated the whites above as drifting clouds. But my daughter was always so thrilled with my lazy version that I never bothered to upgrade.
Other times I am the one hurridly trying to shove last minute parental lessons down her throat, as if I were Tevye bidding my daughter farewell, never to meet again. “Make sure to make eye contact and say thank you whenever someone holds the door. Don’t forget a firm handshake. Always handwrite a thank you note, I don’t care if everyone else just texts.”
We fight. Constantly. In the parking lot of the supermarket. Rushing to Target for last minute lotions. Or sitting across from each other at the dinner table.
Then clumsily, we find our way back to an apology, always with a hug, a joke, a laugh, a peek at our iPhones to see what the latest craziness has appeared on Twitter. And life goes on.
I had lunch with a friend, who is in the midst of driving her son to college far away, who reminded me with a tinge of fear and an ocean of sadness in her eyes that things will never be the same. We sat and picked on our salads at a café trying to grasp the idea of empty nesting, that not understood identity that hovered very close by, just days away.
“I still have the boy,” I joked to lighten the mood, referring to my teenage son still at home. But we both knew that would not be for much longer. That just as we’d blinked and gone from overwhelmed first-time mothers we now sat, a little worse for wear, staring at our Nicoise, wondering where the hell the time went.
We assured ourselves everything would be okay. One way or another. Because it will. Because it must. Because, as we’ve told each other and our children, we have done our best, perhaps not a perfect job, but what is life without a little imperfection, a little stumbling, a heated argument followed by a heartfelt apology, and of course, a deliciously simple, comforting breakfast. Just remember to always hand write a thank you letter, never send a text.
There is one day when the stove and I aren’t friends, where the skillet looks at me with suspicion, and the kitchen might as well be cordoned off in yellow crime scene tape.It is on this day that I am forced, even though my maternal clock has insisted I rise at 6:30 and no later, to stay in bed and feign leisure.It has a fuzzy metallic taste, leisure.I use all my brain power to try and recall what it truly feels like; to sleep in, to take a long shower, to go to the gym in the middle of the day just because.That all evaporated many moons ago when a bundle with chunky cheeks, beautiful eyes and a persistent squirminess was handed to me in a hospital room over eleven years ago.‘You are a mother now,’ the bundle seemed to proclaim, as I held her in a panic, wondering what the hell to do next.
But I stuck it out and the kid grew on me.Enough to have another, this one a son equally as cute and blessed with those same damn long eyelashes (ones I try, I try, I try to duplicate and never come even remotely close to getting.)
So I dove into my dizzying whirlwind of motherhood; of pampering and nurturing, cuddling and fixing, demanding and guiding and on and on and on until, before I knew it the clock has fast forwarded in a frenzied rate to eleven years later.
So on this day, Mother’s Day, I am commanded to relax. I lie stiff on my bed, attempting to remember leisure, as my two children and their father wreak havoc on my culinary turf, just as all children and their fathers do on Mother’s Day.I imagine burnt toast and spilled orange juice and bits of sugary cereal drowning in insane amounts of tepid milk.But I forget, how easily I forget, that these children are a bit of me, and that in this house there is no sugary cereal to speak of and instead, while I pretend to sleep and wonder, feverishly wonder, ‘what the hell is going on out there?’ the three of them have it covered, so covered.
Husband is already brewing my Venezuelan espresso coffee while Daughter will be gently simmering the slices of lox that will be carefully added to the slow-cooked scrambled eggs she specializes in making just like my mother (whom she’s never met) used to.Her brother will argue, adamantly argue (because they regularly get into discussions of this sort) as to which herb to pick from the garden for Mom’s eggs:the dill or the chives.
My son will demand it be dill, because he is a traditionalist at heart and dill and lox are married in flavor.My daughter likes life a bit more piquant and will insist on the way chives tease the egg and lox out of their comfort zone.My husband will proudly and quietly observe this rigorous dialogue worthy of a United Nations assembly.A tear or two will quickly form in his eyes; he wears his heart on his sleeve; that’s one of the things I most tease him about (and most love him for) and then, ultimately, they will all decide in a very kid-like manner: flipping a coin or a game of rock-paper-scissor. They will be respectful of said decision.They will be gracious about the victorious herb and move on to other aspects of the dish (plating, flowers, notes and homemade gifts:all to celebrate my lack of leisure.)I lie and await a meal that will be memorably theirs and delicious because of it.There will be nothing burnt, for they have been intuitive observers and willing participants in my kitchen over the years.
The three of them will hobble noisily to my room to ‘wake me’ with a tray full of love and culinary bravado and I will act surprised and inhale the comforting and salty aroma of butter, eggs and lox and I will see a lovely family, my lovely family, by my side.My husband will hand me my coffee (because he knows I must have a sip of this elixir first) and I will feel lucky, so very lucky, that for this I have forgotten the meaning of leisure.
I’m lying on my bed trying to read and my stallion man’s presence could be felt nearby. Not because he is tall and strong and manly, all of which, in my eyes of love, he most definitely is. But rather, because his piss is so loud. Loud. Louder than his yawn (which those who know him, know well and clear it to be loud). Even louder than his voice, which melts into a smooth baritone whenever he croons secrets of love into my lobe but turns on a dime into an obnoxious, aggressive pitch of fury when a business associate is out of line, a deadline he expected met was not or a childhood friend calls him up to reminisce. No, when my man is on the phone the meaning of privacy is gone: everyone in the street, block and neighborhood knows his business. But I digress. So let me return. I’m lying in my bed trying to read.
A good book.
A book to escape the pile of laundry that beckons, the kids’ numerous needs that exhaust; life in general. Escape. A book.
It’s written by Garrison Keiller so automatically just holding the cover makes me laugh.
I am looking forward to this plunge into fantasy.
I am savoring it slowly.
Slowly. Open the crisp pages. Slowly. Here it comes. Here. It. Comes, then…plunk pissssssssss plunk plunk plunk pissssssssssssssssss!
I slam Garrison shut and jump in the air. What’s that? A pipe bursting? Which child has broken what? How much will it cost to get a plumber out here on a lazy Sunday afternoon? And by God it’s raining. They must charge more for raining. And I am ready to zip out my bedroom door to scream the usual: Time out! I’m disappointed in you! You need to make good choices! Don’t blame your (brother/sister)!
These all come out of me as easily as the carbon dioxide I breathe onto my dying houseplants. Like Pavlov’s dogs I am ready and activated into motherly bitch mode, no matter how depleted I may feel: I just can’t help myself.
But as I dash out the door ready to burst out the first of many misguided screams, I notice the burst pipe sound gets farther away from me. Bathroom? Is that noise coming from my bathroom?
I turn and dash back, cursing myself all along the two-second journey for not being more careful. Of what I am not sure but there must be something, something I forgot. A faucet left on. A toilet neglected. Something. Something. Something. I’ve forgotten that my husband is home (those of you that know him know he travels obsessively and occasionally stops by) until I am greeted by his stallionesque backside in the bathroom, standing against the toilet pissing at full force. I gasped because even after all these years of shared bathroom experiences I am still amazed at how damn loud that man can pee.
He turned to me startled and a small proud smile spread over his scruffy face. “Asparagus” he proclaimed in victory. “My pee smells like asparagus,” he clarified to my dismay. He seemed pleased with his achievement and wondered out loud how incredible that after a mere twenty minutes since gobbling my delightful asparagus frittata he was enjoying this particular aroma from his urine. The man’s favorite channel is the Discovery Channel, he read encyclopedias to pass time as a kid, what can I say except that I am not surprised this is how he is complimenting my dinner. I don’t know what I should feel, so, I mix it up a bit: awe, annoyance, astonishment, pride?
“Can you just close the door next time?” I reprimand as a smile spreads over my face as well. He’s his own person, and I love him more for it. Loud piss and all.
Like many seven-year olds, my dad was my ultimate heroic figure. He could do no wrong, say no wrong, and was always filled with an alluring intrigue. He also was an amazing storyteller. My father’s stories weren’t about monsters he battled with swords or rough oceans he bravely steered ships through or mythical creatures he aligned with to save the universe. My father’s adventure tales were all real. Born in Israel, then called Palestine, in 1933, my dad’s place in history gave him a first rate place in storytelling.
I was an eager and voracious listener, clinging onto his every word as if my life depended on it. His stories where always vivid and alive and somehow woven in with food of some sort. His mother’s incredible Lemon Meringue Pie was one of those food items that came up again and again. No one, apparently, could duplicate it. He’d return home from some sort of mischief with his cousin Rafi and there it would be, the perfect combination of tart and sweet and fluff gulped in irreplaceable bites. Recounting the Jerusalem siege would bring up more food memories. The road climbing up to the city was locked in battle and little food was available, so my father mustered up stories of making do with meals of grass, tea and if lucky, scraps of some type of meat. On good days, you’d have an occasional egg. (Our family joke growing up was that this was why my father was so obsessed with hording food in the fridge as an adult. We called it his Jerusalem Siege Complex.) He talked about his father Isaac Abbady’s historical role as the official translator for the British government in Palestine, where all the players, from the British, to the Jews to the Arabs, seemed somehow dependent on this man’s intelligent and accurate interpretations. Of course, equally fascinating was my grandfather’s obsession with Cacciocavallo, a salty aged goat cheese he would fry into crispy bites. This was the stuff of the perfect movie and it was coming to me live through endless enthusiasm that sparked off my father’s hazel eyes.
Then there were the wild James-Dean-like tales of my father. The ones that occasionally made my mother blush or quietly shake her head and walk away, but the ones my sisters and I equally adored and demanded to be told over and over and over. His daring move to New York as a young entrepreneur and all the challenges and successes that brought on, the endless list of starlet American college women (all from upscale Ivy League stock, of course) that he mesmerized, and then the blind date that almost didn’t happen with a young woman named Marilyn who ended up stopping his heart with her beautiful smile, graceful figure, sharp wit and unparallel intelligence. Marilyn was only filling in for her roommate who had backed out of her blind date at the last minute. Marilyn didn’t really feel like going, but went anyway, she was that kind of friend: loyal and kind. Thankfully that meeting stirred a series of events that would lead to marriage and eventually to me. Of course, during this important chunk of their history, many meals where shared, but the one that sticks to most stories is Marilyn’s famous Spanish Rice, a stew of ground beef, rice, green peppers and spices, which was all she knew how to cook and all they could afford to eat!
My dad is 76 now and still manages to find adventure. High tales follow him wherever he goes. Food is also still an integral part of his day to day, whether it be rubbing shoulders with local Ecuadorian market vendors where he sells his hotdogs every Saturday, perusing one of the cookbooks that line his library, or cooking up his superb omelets bursting with fresh herbs and cheeses. I feel the same way about this omelet as he does about his mother’s lemon meringue pie: there will never be one as tasty. When I think about him I often wonder what meal he is enjoying: it is the one solid ground we’ve always had, despite many other ups and downs. It is an obsession he helped pass on to me (and I dare say, like him, I’ve been known to wonder out loud during lunch what we will be having for dinner). And no matter what, I always, always miss his omelet.
Como muchos niños de siete años, mi papá era mi figura heroica última. Él no podría hacer ningún mal, decir ningún mal, y siempre me llenaba de fascinación. Él también era un cuentista asombroso. Las historias de mi padre no eran sobre monstruos que él combatió con espadas o criaturas míticas con las que él se alineó para salvar el universo. Los cuentos de aventura de mi padre eran todos verdaderos. Nacido en Israel, Palestina en aquel entonces, en 1933, el lugar de mi papá en la historia le dio un primer puesto para contra unas verdaderas aventuras.
Yo siempre escuchaba atentamente, adhieriendo en su cada palabra como si mi vida dependió de ello. Sus historias donde siempre eran tejidas con comida de alguna clase. El Pie de Merengue de Limón increíble de su madre es uno de aquellos que se repetia mucho en sus cuentos. Nadie, por lo visto, podría duplicarlo. Él volvería a casa despues de alguna clase de travesura con su primo Rafi y allí estaría el pie de merengue de su madre: la combinación perfecta de tarta y caramelo y espuma disfrutada en mordiscos irremplazables. El recuento del sitio de Jerusalén criaría más memorias de comida. El camino que sube hasta la ciudad fue cerrado por la batalla y poco alimento estaba disponible, entonces mi padre contaria de comidas de hierba, té y para los afortunados, restos de algún tipo de carne. (Nuestro chiste entre familia era que esto era por qué mi padre estuvo tan obsesionado con tener la nevera llena de comida como un adulto. Lo llamamos su Complejo de Sitio de Jerusalén.) Él habló del papel histórico de su padre Isaac Abbady como el traductor oficial para el gobierno británico en Palestina, donde todos los jugadores, del Británico, a los Judíos a los Árabes, parecidos de alguna manera dependiente en las interpretaciones inteligentes y exactas de este hombre. Por supuesto, igualmente fascinante era la obsesión de mi abuelo con Cacciocavallo, un queso de cabra salado que él freiría en mordeduras crujientes. Este era la materia de la película perfecta y me llegaba directamente por el entusiasmo interminable que provocó los ojos color de avellana de mi padre.
Entonces había cuentos estilo James-Dean sobre mi padre. Su mudanza audaz a Nueva York como un empresario joven y todos los desafíos y éxitos que provocaron, la lista interminable de mujeres de colegio finos americanos que él hipnotizó, y luego la cita ciega que casi no pasó con una mujer joven llamada Marilyn que terminó por parar su corazón con su sonrisa hermosa, figura elegante, ingenio agudo e inteligencia sin paralela.Marilyn sólo reemplazaba su compañera de cuarto que habia cancelada a ultimo momento. Marilyn realmente no tuvo ganas de ir, pero fue de todos modos, ella era esa clase de amiga: leal y amable. Por suerte aquella reunión movió una serie de acontecimientos que conducirían al matrimonio y finalmente a mí. ¡Por supuesto, durante este cacho importante de su historia, muchas comidas fueron compartidas, pero el que se atiene a la mayor parte de historias es el Arroz español famoso de Marilyn, un guisado de picadillo, arroz, pimientas verdes y especias, que era todo lo que sabía preparar!
Mi papá tiene 76 años ahora y todavía logra encontrar aventura. Los cuentos lo siguen dondequiera que él vaya. La comida es todavía una parte integrante de su día: si ello frotar hombros con vendedores de mercado ecuatorianos locales donde él vende sus perritos calientes cada sábado, leyendo detenidamente uno de los libros de cocina que adornan su biblioteca, o preparando su tortilla magníficas que se revientan con hierbas frescas y quesos. Siento lo mismo sobre esta tortilla de huevos que él sobre el pie de merengue de limón de su madre: nunca habrá un tan sabroso. Cuando pienso en él a menudo me pregunto de que comida estara disfrutando: esto es una tierra sólida que siempre teníamos, a pesar de muchos otros altibajos. Esto es una obsesión que él ayudó a pasarme (y me atrevo a decir, como él, se ha conocido que yo me pregunto en voz alta durante el almuerzo lo que tendremos para la cena). Y pase lo que pase, siempre, siempre, me hace falta su tortilla.